Almost immediately upon taking office, President Donald Trump has begun fulfilling his campaign promise of gutting the EPA, targeting the agency’s spending and reportedly planning to halt much of its work. He also took on the other liberal bugaboo from the Obama administration—the long-debated Keystone XL pipeline—and both document leaks and transition officials indicate the new commander in chief is going to hand down more regulatory cuts.
Here are the shots fired in the administration’s first week for the environment.
1. Pipelines Back on Track
On Tuesday, the president signed executive orders reviving the fates of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, which had been halted by the previous administration due to social and environmental concerns.
The fights over these two pipelines were some of the hardest fought by environmentalists over the last eight years and the Obama administration ended up blocking both of the multibillion-dollar projects after intense pressure. The pipes would carry oil produced from Alberta’s tar sands across the Canadian border and down to the U.S.
During his campaign, Trump promised to authorize the pipelines—and to require the builders to use American-made steel in the process. "We will build our own pipes, like we used to in the old days," he said at Tuesday’s signing ceremony of the executive order approving the pipelines. Two days later, TransCanada, the Calgary company building Keystone, resubmitted its application to construct the pipeline.
2. Freezes, Gags, and Blackouts
The Trump Administration temporarily froze all of the EPA’s grants and contracts on Monday, pending further review by administration officials. The freeze is expected to end today, but as of this writing it hadn't yet been lifted.
Although Myron Ebell, a climate change skeptic and Trump transition team leader, told Reuters that freezes like this were "routine" for incoming administrations, an anonymous EPA employee told ProPublica "he had never seen anything like it in nearly a decade with the agency," and that "hiring freezes happened, but freezes on grants and contracts seemed extraordinary."
On Friday, Ebell told the Associated Press he would like to see the EPA’s staff slashed in half—the agency currently employs 15,000 people across the country—and that he expected the president to seek to cut about $1 billion of the agency’s $8 billion budget.
3. Regulations on the Chopping Block
Earlier in the week, the new political news site Axios claimed to have received a copy of the Trump transition team’s “Agency Action” plan for the EPA. It identifies a host of EPA initiatives the administration aims to halt, including: Clean Air Act greenhouse gas regulations that cover new and existing coal and natural gas power plants; CAFE standards, which regulate fuel economy rates for cars; section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which prevents water pollution caused by infrastructure or development; and regulations designed to protect wetlands and the Chesapeake Bay.
Ebell, the official who headed up planning on the EPA for the transition, told The Hill the document was prepared before Trump took office and is not the most up-to-date action plan for the agency. However, other early executive actions leaked to Axios have come to fruition, including the planned withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership, the implementation of the Mexico City Rule on funding foreign NGOs that provide abortion, and a broad hiring freeze across the federal government.
The same leaked memo suggests that the new administration does not believe its own scientists at the EPA. "EPA does not use science to guide regulatory policy as much as it uses regulatory policy to steer the science. This is an old problem at EPA," the leaked document reads. "In 1992, a blue-ribbon panel of EPA science advisers that [sic] 'science should not be adjusted to fit policy.' But rather than heed this advice, EPA has greatly increased its science manipulation."
4. Pruitt Moves Forward
Finally, the EPA was brought one step closer to being run by a person who has dedicated himself to halting its policies. On Monday, the Republican chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said that Scott Pruitt, Trump’s nominee for EPA Administrator, had been “comprehensively vetted” and demonstrated his ability to lead the agency.
Pruitt, who is currently the attorney general of the state of Oklahoma, is skeptical of the science behind climate change. While attorney general, he sued the EPA at least 14 times to halt the Obama administration’s environmental policies and Pruitt describes himself as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” Last week, at his confirmation hearing Pruitt told senators that, “Science tells us that the climate is changing and human activity in some manner impacts that change. The human ability to measure with precision the extent of that impact is subject to continuing debate and dialogue, as well they should be.”
Although Democrats widely oppose Pruitt, they are a minority in the Senate, and his chances of leading the EPA are improving.